Richard Wentworth—whose grim, anti-crime crusades as the Spider have made him world-famous—was the first objective in the Poison Master’s murder campaign. His best friend, Kirkpatrick, lay in a death-like stupor. His beloved, Nita van Sloan, was stricken with the horrible living death! And at the same time, countless thousands were felled by the same fatal venom… Caught in the crossfire between the Law and the Underworld, the Spider must battle the blind apathy of a nation ensnared in a subtle death-trap—must overcome the despair in his own brave heart…!
“The Laboratory of the Damned” is the 34th Spider novel and was originally published in July 1936. As in previous adventures, poison is being distributed through everyday items such as salads and orange juice. This time, the perpetrator is called simply the “Poisoner.” Kirkpatrick is an early victim. Sadly Apollo, Nita’s faithful dog and Spider helper as in “Death’s Crimson Juggernaut” where acted as guide dog for a blind Spider, eats tainted candy intended for Wentworth and Nita and dies. Of course, Nita will be affected before this one is over… Mr. Page’s simple way of assuring that the Spider is really, really motivated.
Meanwhile the poison is spreading like wildfire across the city, the Spider always seemingly too late to stop the dissemination of the poison while it causes hundreds of deaths and paralysis. Perhaps the most graphic drawing was a hundred or so dying in a Ferris Wheel and falling to the ground while the Spider watches helplessly. Another interesting scene occurs when Wentworth and Nita are on a ship where poison is about to be served to passengers; since the ship’s management refuses to listen to warnings of poison, even after Nita pretends to be poisoned, they set the boat on fire so that it has to be evacuated.
Apparently, the Poisoner’s ploy is to create havoc, take out the city’s leadership, and take over the city in their wake. The story ends with this line: “It did not matter now that death had been so close. The Spider had won another victory…!” The reference is to the Spider saving a few including Nita, apparently ignoring the hundreds who have died.
The tale has good action scenes and is generally better than many of the other Spider novels in the 1936 period. However, it does not get to the heights of the earlier extraordinary Spiders, such as “Wings of the Black Death,” “The City Destroyer,” or “Death Reign of the Vampire King.”